Matt Lewis, exec chef of Bones, on pop-ups, burgers and women
"Every time I walked through the door of my Italian grandmother's house, even if it was after dinner, the first thing she'd ask was if I was hungry -- it never stopped," says Matt Lewis, who admits that, yes, in fact, he was hungry -- hungry to eat, hungry to learn, hungry to cook.
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Lewis, the executive chef of Bones, the Asian noodle bar in Capitol Hill that's owned by Frank Bonanno, began his culinary career while a teenager in Cheyenne, where he did time as a prep and broiler cook at a local restaurant by night and took cooking classes during the day, occasionally participating in culinary competitions, which Lewis found himself winning more often than not. "I'd always enjoyed cooking and being around food -- it was fun and made me happy -- and during my junior and senior years of high school, I won a couple of state culinary competitions, pretty much blowing everyone out of the water," he recalls. "I knew at a pretty young age that this was what I wanted to do with my life."
He graduated in 2004 and moved himself -- and his trophies and medals -- to Denver to attend Johnson & Wales, but after two and a half years, he called it quits. "I was never a very good student," admits Lewis, "and to be honest, I hated just about every second of culinary school, and since I was a quick learner and already knew how to cook, I just decided that I'd work my way up the ladder in real kitchens."
His first gig, however, was nearly enough to convince him otherwise. He landed behind the line at Islamorada, the restaurant inside the Bass Pro Shop in Northfield. "I was young and making good money, and I loved the guys I worked with, but the food was cooked in such a manner that it was totally bastardized -- it was garbage," says Lewis, who admits that, if nothing else, the experience taught him to be efficient and fast.
And it didn't take long before he found work in another galley, Lo Coastal Fusion, a now-defunct restaurant in Englewood. Lewis was hired as a junior sous chef and stayed on board the boat for three and a half years. "I worked my ass off, but in the end, the concept failed, and while it was a very amicable parting, I needed to move on," he says.
He left on his own terms -- but that wasn't the case at North, where Lewis got his foot in the door as a sous chef flipping pans in a high-volume kitchen that eventually became his own. "I worked my way up to exec sous chef, but then made a big mistake that I really regret," he reveals. In the scheme of things -- Lewis was caught drinking an airplane shooter of whiskey in the walk-in before his shift was over -- he could have done a lot worse, but it was enough to get him canned. "I definitely didn't leave because I wanted to, but it was a lesson learned, and it won't ever happen again."